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Google Chrome Adds WebM Video, Drops H.264

The Web video cold war has broken into open conflict.

Google on Tuesday said that it plans to drop support for the H.264 video codec in its Chrome browser and to embrace WebM, the video codec that it acquired in 2009 and released last year as open source software.

The move is a direct challenge to Apple and Microsoft, which own some of the patent rights associated with H.264. Those rights are managed by MPEG LA, an intellectual property licensing organization.

Citing expected innovation in Web technology in the coming year and its commitment to technologies that are developed and licensed using open Web principles, Google product manager Mike Jazayeri said that in a few months, Google will shift to supporting the WebM and Theora video codecs to render video published using the HTML5 video tag and will end support for H.264. (The HTML5 video tag does not require a specific video codec.)

"Though H.264 plays an important role in video, as our goal is to enable open innovation, support for the codec will be removed and our resources directed towards completely open codec technologies," said Jazayeri in a blog post.

This change is unlikely to be noticed by Internet users, at least initially. Chrome supports Adobe's Flash technology, which will render H.264 video even after Google begins using WebM and Theora in Chrome. Thus Chrome users who view H.264 video once support is discontinued will see H.264 video in a Flash wrapper. This is the way that Firefox currently operates.

Google's decision will have an impact on businesses, particularly video publishers, who will have to decide whether to re-encode their videos to deliver optimized content to users of Chrome and Firefox, which will be supporting WebM in its 4.0 release.

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